INC South Pacific is based on connecting, supporting and partnering – which is an underlying core principle of the International Network of Churches also known as Christian Outreach Centre.
While each South Pacific nation in the Network (Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu) is basically autonomous, they are also strongly connected to the original movement which was founded in Brisbane, Australia in 1974. Support in times of disaster, assisting the island churches to develop and grow to fulfil the task of bringing the people to salvation in Christ are all seen as a responsibility of INC.
Some connections are on a large scale such as the training College at Balasuna in the Solomon Islands. And some connections are small. One example of such a relationship has formed over the past three years between Mark and Heidi Westbrook, pastors of the INC Heart Church in the country town of Roma in Queensland and with Domenique & Melinda Vuti pastoring the Church on the Rock Church at Luganville on the island of Santo in Vanuatu.
Mark and Heidi discovered the Church when on a visit back in 2015. Their goal since then has been to assist Domenique and Melinda to build a strong church as a base to reach out to Santo and other islands. They have provided support through prayer, encouragement, finance, and business opportunities. Even after a month of sickness and fever and 5 days in hospital for Mark following their visit in 2017, it has not deterred them from continuing on with the friendship. Another member of the Roma Church Richard Lobwein has spent time in Vanuatu setting Domenique up with a laptop and better communication facilities.
Domenique with Westbrook children
Domenique sharing in Australia
This year they sponsored Pastor Domenique to attend the recent INC Conference which was attended by many INC pastors from overseas. Following the Conference they took him home to Roma for a short time where he has been learning many new things to assist in developing his church and has ministered in some of the small country towns of western Queensland.
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There are an estimated 450 INC churches throughout the South Pacific, the majority of them being in Papua New Guinea with its larger population. There are also churches in Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga. Keeping track of the number of INC churches is not easy. They can spring up overnight following outreach meetings in some remote village. Or a church may be planted out from a larger church in one of the cities. And then there is the down side where some may just disappear because of isolation, young people moving to the cities and outside influences. Many still use the name of COC (Christian Outreach Centre)
Some rural churches in Vanuatu and Fiji.
Not all INC and COC churches have buildings but there is a great variety in the ones who do have their own building. Small buildings made of bush materials can be found in many villages where the people often sit on the ground and then they progress to making wooden benches to sit on. Highlands churches are closed in for warmth while coastal churches tend to allow the air flow through. In Fiji, government standards are stricter and most church buildings are of a permanent nature.
Some town and city churches in Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.
Their goal is always to build a more permanent building even if they are still quite small. Larger churches are found in the cities or towns and plastic chairs are used to provide seating. In the cities, sometimes property is rented until they are able to build their own building. Their love of colour and decoration is always evident in their buildings with flowers, banners and curtains and even to the choice of tiles for their floors.
In their church services, the love of worship and praise and the welcome given make it easy for visitors to join in, even if the language is foreign to them.
Gathering together for conferences, crusades and “boot camps” provides life, inspiration, encouragement and accountability for the INC pastors in the South Pacific nations. Many of them are isolated in the mountains or on an island; some have had to face disasters such as cyclones, droughts, tsunamis or sickness. Conferences are held yearly on a national level where guest speakers from Australia or other nations are invited. Women’s and Youth Conventions are held from time to time on a regular basis. Their regional and provincial gatherings are also valuable times where they are also able to discuss matters of importance to them and they also hold Crusade type meetings at night.
Highlands Youth Conference, Kundiawa
Photos: Youth Conference in Highlands of PNG; National Conference Fiji; Youth Conference, North Vanuatu; Women heading to a Regional Women’s Conference in PNG.
INC Fiji held their Biennial Conference in May 2017 where they gathered at the Navua Garden of Joy church. Guest speakers were Oceania Chairman Pastor Ross Abraham, International Director of Global Care Pastor Peter Pilt and Pastor Iliesa Tamaniyaga from New Zealand.
Fiji National Conference May 2017
Coming Conferences for INC South Pacific are:
August 16 FIJI National Women’s Conference
September 4-7 VANUATU (Southern Provinces) at South Tanna.
September 26-29 PAPUA NEW GUINEA at Mt Hagen, Western Highlands Prov.
October 3-6 SOLOMON ISLANDS at Auki, Malaita Province.
December 8-12 VANUATU (Northern Provinces) at Luganville, Sanma Prov.
Following a previous missions trip to Vanuatu when outreach meetings were held and many age including the villager chief came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, a relationship has been established between the mission team members of the Shellharbour Community Church and the village of Olan Nambuga, which is essentially a slum area only 10 minutes away from the centre of Port Vila in Vanuatu. The living standards for most people in the village are quite low and unemployment is high. Many children can’t afford to go to the regular schools.
Desiring to further this relationship in a practical way, a team of 10 people from the INC church at Shellharbour ages ranging from 16 to 70 followed up with another visit in July 2017. The aim of the visit was to build a marketplace in the village. The vision is that this market would bring tourism, provide employment, create a central space for purchasing goods for those in the village and would create income that will send local children to school.
According to team members Rachel and David Imisides : “ God really took care of the team over the trip and we saw His hand in so many things! God led us to unexpected ministry and missions opportunities. The team worked very hard over very long hours and the market place went up successfully in just 6 days! We built an open market, an office and a store room. The villagers were so pleased with the market and many of them expressed what a difference it would make in their community.”
God opened up an opportunity for the three women in the team to start a Scabies Clinic in the village. Many children in the village are affected by this horribly uncomfortable disease that leads to open sores on different parts of the body. Over 50 children and adults were treated as well as teaching them some basic health principles such as the importance of cleaning and covering wounds to avoid infection and much improvement in the patients.
The medical equipment was left with a local teacher who will continue the work. Rachel writes, “We also had a language student on our team who was able to translate into the local language the process for treating the disease. They were so impressed by the accuracy of the translation! We put the poster up around the village to facilitate ongoing treatment of the disease. We are hoping and praying it will make a big impact in the village.”